Grooves, Joe Panzner
There's a playful bite to the title of ErikM and Jérôme Noetinger's latest scuffle in the electroacoustic dirt, as one can only imagine a frazzled Louis Armstrong tormented by this inspired collection of wired crackles and thumps. A clever and deceptive jab, perhaps, gracing this radiantly grainy hunk of interference with such cute titles, but there's a degree of truth at work amidst the irony - there's a world's worth of historical reference and unsteady sonic terrain covered here, and nearly all of it is wonderful. ErikM's contributions hail from a contemporary perspective, mixing minidisks and well-rattled turntable through sundry effects, while Noetinger's barrage of old-school electroacoustic devices and contact microphone detonations hearken back to the cloistered days of electronic academia, less the obsessive predetermination. Together, they create fractured and detail-rich miniatures laced with oddball sentimentality, rough-hewn noise, and buoyant energy.
Despite the abundance of post-production - the album credits declare the contents "reorganized" from their improvised origins - What A Wonderful World retains the brisk pacing and "hands on the reels" vibe befitting ErikM and Noetinger's more physical approach to electroacoustic improv. Most of the duo's exchanges are fast-paced and dynamically fluctuant affairs, as on the rambunctious "Red Roses Too" and "Dark Sacred Night," where turntables sputter out grimy chunks of static or stylus-on-metal slashes while samples of half-heard conversations and traffic are ground into white-hot particles and fired against the eardrum. Other tracks feature Noetinger and ErikM in a more playful mood - the overdriven children's voices that open "Skies of Blue cast a knowing wink to Presque Rien before they're consumed by a pack of electrostatic wolves, and monomaniacal looping turns "Colours Of The Rainbow" into a deranged etude for piano and detached voice. Only the gently rustling coda "Pretty In The Sky" offers temporary relief from queasy extremes with a drone whose dirty glisten is only subsumed by squeal and pop at its dramatic finale. The finale silence is every bit as jarring as the proceeding skirmishes and inspires the same sort of delicious discomfort - "and I think to myself, what a wonderful world."
Nightclub Jitters, Armando Bellmas
I've been having a hard time trying to come up with the words to describe the collaboration between Jérôme Noetinger and ErikM, What A Wonderful World, on Erstwhile Records. Two of France's leading musical experimentalists, Noetinger and ErikM come together for the first time on this recording to unleash a collection of sounds that both baffles and intrigues me at the same time. I'll give it a go.
What stands out the most are the everyday sounds that are buried and hidden behind abstract electronic sounds. Among the familiar sounds are car doors closing, children playing, flourescent lights pulsing, French pop music, unanswered telephones, and a child practicing the piano.
Yet what makes these common sounds interesting is their unique placement in the context of the whole electronic composition. For example, on "skies of blue," the sound of children playing is mixed with an electronically distorted and anguished scream. But what makes the two distinctly different sounds work impeccably well together is that it seems as if both are only being heard by one person - an adult, for instance, hearing the sound of his own children playing while he screams in psychological pain on the inside. It's pretty intense music.
On "dark sacred night," the sound of a French pop song - sung dramatically by some French-singing diva - is overtaken by a piercing fuzz that eventually drowns the singer and music out. It's as if the processed sound of pop music is pushed to the limits of the technology, going beyond the basic sounds and settings that we're surrounded by in our everyday world.
Noetinger and ErikM even go so far as to take a classic standard like "What A Wonderful World" and deconstruct it in the creation of this record. The titles of this album's compositions are taken from the lyrics of the standard. Actually, the complete lyrics are included in the liner notes - as close to an explanation of this whole recording's theme as we're going to get from Noetinger and ErikM. But then that's part of the beauty and mystery of this record.
Music like this demands repeated listens before you can even begin to grasp what is going on. (This is the case with each Erstwhile release I've listened to. A welcomed endeavor in my book.) At first, it sounds random. But the more and more you listen to it, the more each bit of noise sounds deliberately placed. Elements are sought out, recorded, mixed and juxtaposed in precise measure by these two modern musicians.
I'm sure there is some element of randomness in the creative process of this recording, but it's during the editing process where, I believe, What A Wonderful World painstakingly and meticulously comes together to form the magnificent and difficult record that it is. In the hands and minds of Noetinger and ErikM, it is indeed a strange and unique perspective on our wonderful world.
All Music Guide, Brian Olewnick
Despite the title of the album and several of the selections, listeners who approach this disc expecting something in the vein of Louis Armstrong will likely be disappointed. Then again maybe not, if it's originality that's prized. Jérôme Noetinger and Erik M had, by the late '90s, established themselves as driving forces in contemporary electronic improvisation, performing and recording with virtually anyone of note in the field. For this album, they at least partially venture out into different, though adjacent, territory: that of musique concréte. Additionally, there is a large amount of post-processing, making it difficult to call the music contained herein "free improvisation" in, at least, the original sense of the term. Some of the tracks, such as the opening "Trees of Green" and the closing "Pretty in the Sky," will not strike the experienced listener as unfamiliar. Both are superb electro-acoustic integrations of abstract and found sounds, leavened into a full and satisfying whole and recorded with wonderful clarity. The surprise sets in on the fourth track where one is suddenly buffeted by the playful and sarcastic screams of what appears to be a handful of ten-year-olds. Suddenly, it feels as though you've wandered into a Luc Ferrari piece as the treated, real-world sounds mingle with electronics. These sounds may be deemed intriguing or banal depending on the listener's frame of reference, but by and large they meld solidly with their accompaniment. There's a wonderful moment in "Dark Sacred Night" where a French chanteuse has her torch song utterly obliterated by a storm of ultra-harsh static and white noise. What a Wonderful World is a fine example of the restless pursuit of new sonic combinations; as well as furthering the idea, in this genre, of wh at is possible after the "performance" has ended. Recommended.